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Rust and the Police Car

Hello, everyone. It’s finally time for another edition of Police Car Collecting. It’s been a few weeks since my last installment, but in all honesty, there’s not been much to talk about with the winter lull. Either you’ve been working on your winter projects or waiting until the warmth comes around again, and it can’t come too soon for me. Some of us don’t have the resources to be able to do winter projects, so we have to wait and dream until spring to get started on what we want to do this year.

gran fury side

You may note that I’ve been turning to tech topics lately. These are as important to us as they are to the rest of the collector car hobby and it would be a disservice to you by excluding them. Hopefully, the last two columns have given you some ideas on how to do more yourself and maybe some fuel to get things started. I hope so.

I’d like to expand on a significant subject, especially to us who live in the “rust belt:” rust. This is the scourge of the collector car hobby and has claimed no small amount of collectable vehicles. Police cars are not immune and in many cases rust has claimed a larger percentage of them over the years due to the fact that they get poorer maintenance during their initial service life. Many of us in this part of the country at least try to hose off our daily drivers now and then to get rid of the salt accumulation that is inevitable over the winter months. It is not uncommon for copcars to get only occasionally washed with little attention paid to the undercarriage. As a result, they rot out.

So we have a project that has the infamous cancer, or just maybe a good coating of surface rust which can happen on unprotected ferrous metals in any place in the land. What can we do about it?

Automotive rust elimination vs encapsulation

The old standard for rust elimination was to sand the surface down and cut out through and through corrosion before patching and hoping for the best. More often than not, we get a reoccurrence of the rust ruining what may have been a nice refinishing job. The problem is that while sanded surfaces may look shiny and new, the rust still resides in microscopic pores in the metal just waiting to spread again.

The only real way to refinish corroded metals is to sand and chemically treat the surface to stop it from coming back. Cutting and patching may still be necessary for worst surfaces where rust through has completely occurred, but the surrounding metal still should be properly prepared.

We are talking here about automotive parts that are salvageable. Make absolutely sure first that the parts you want to fix are actually able to be salvaged and aren’t so badly rusted through or have been so weakened by corrosion that the time, expense, and effort aren’t a total waste.

chevy malibu

There are paint like coatings on the market now called “rust encapsulators.” These cover the rusted metal after some superficial cleaning and stop the progression of the corrosive process while creating a paintable surface; they may also help strengthen the surface in the same step.

The two most widely purchased products are POR-15 and Eastwood Rust Encapsulator. These coatings create an epoxy-like surface and are well suited to areas like chassis, frame, and undercarriage parts as well as bumper brackets and the like. They come in several glosses of black and now are starting to be available in a few other colors like silver. Both products have worked very well for many restorers. A couple of independent tests have come to the conclusion that Eastwood’s product is superior over time as well as being a bit less expensive.

The one problem with these products is that they are not very well suited to doing body panels or metal interior areas. Once they dry, they dry to a very hard surface and are difficult to do anything with after the fact. It is feasible to use them to coat the inner areas of fenders and quarters to stop any new corrosion. Not the exterior surfaces, though. If you ever try to sand a surface painted with POR-15, you’ll see exactly what I mean. I tried once.

By the way, ALWAYS wear gloves when using rust encapsulators. Getting this stuff off of your hands is nearly impossible. You should also take care not to get these products on surfaces you do not want coated. They can be difficult if not impossible to remove once they start to dry. You can use thinner while still wet. I would recommend caution using a spray gun as they can be thinned and shot. Cleanup is a bear and has to be done immediately and thoroughly. Otherwise, you’ll be trashing your gun.

Sandblasting or media blasting is a great way to remove rust, but you can still have the same issues with the pores of the metal requiring some sort of treatment prior to Bondo and paint. While I’m mentioning blasting, the newest way to media blast thin panels without damage potential is soda blasting. This process uses baking soda instead of other media; it works very well and has a significantly lesser chance of causing damage to the surface. Your shop supplier can show you what is available in the different types of media if blasting is what you wish to do. The Internet is full of useful info on this process also. Heck, there is probably some right here on Allpar.

1975 gran fury

The preferred and proven method of the final treatment of rusted parts is chemical treating. There have been products on the market which claimed to remove rust for quite some time. One which I believe is still on the market is Extend which is sold at most retailers in the automotive departments. I never thought that this product worked all that well.

The best products are the ones sold by body shop suppliers. SEM manufactures two professional treatment products, Rust-Mort and Rust Seal. Rust-Mort is a watery based solution which turns the metal to a black surface, reversing the oxidation process. Rust Seal is a thicker liquid which is better suited to flat panels as it can be painted on. Both products often need several applications applied 24 hours apart for the best results.

After the treatment process is complete, you can refinish the surface, primer and paint it as usual. I have used both personally with excellent results and recommend them. They can be a bit pricey, though. I bought a quart of Rust Seal late last year and paid $40 at my local shop supply. Then again, you get what you pay for…a product which does exactly what it is supposed to do and do well. Consider what the difference in cost is in paying $40 for a quart of treatment or having to scrap the piece. A no-brainer in many cases.

The concern with these rust treatments is the hazardous nature of the product. These are acid based and you must take the personal precautions to avoid burning of the skin when using or splashing in the eyes. Regular latex gloves will not adequately protect you as they will degrade. I’d recommend nitrile gloves or even thicker chemical resistant gloves. They will also damage painted and plastic surfaces. You must take all precautions if other surfaces are attached to the part you are trying to repair. After the products dry completely, they appear to be perfectly safe, though.

There have been a number of less hazardous rust treatments available on the market. How well they worked has been the topic of many a conversation. Interestingly enough, there is a home-made concoction that actually will remove rust from ferrous metals — a combination of cider vinegar and molasses! It does actually work on lightly rusted metals, though it takes a through soaking over several days to work adequately.

There are several newer non-hazardous treatments available which are actually supposed to work fairly well. Last month, the guys at Hot Rod magazine did a test of several of these products and published the results. For a detailed analysis of the tests, try to find the January 2009 issue of Hot Rod. I will give you a synopsis of what they concluded here.

The products tested were…

The bottom line was that all of these products actually worked as they claimed. The thickest one and the best suited for larger surface areas by their conclusions was Ultra One, but all could work regardless of where they were used. Rust-Eze worked well on body panels and was put on with a paint roller in the test. Evapo-Rust was tested on a grille piece which also contained painted and plastic components without damage to them at all. They still all needed several days of treatment to remove all of the rust, but are a safe alternative to the acidic conventional rust treatments. Rust-Eze did remove paint, and Rust Bomb did require some type of gloves as it turned skin blue.

providence squad

Many thanks to the staff at Hot Rod for testing real world products that actually matter to the DIY restorer.

So... there are numerous alternatives of chemical rust removal, encapsulation, or reversal that you can choose from. It matters not whether it is your copcar project or for your daily driver. All require some time for the process to occur for removal or reversal to the point where refinishing is possible. Patience is very important for this to work well to minimize the possibility of reoccurrence. Rush the process and you will regret it.

Well, this is all for another installment of PCC. I hope you are looking forward to the upcoming season as I am.

Until later, keep saving those copcars!!!!

Also see Allpar’s page on finding a body shop.

Other columns

Introduction | The basics of police car collecting | Who are collectors? Why do we collect?

Emergency lighting | Sirens | Where to find retired police cars | Emergency vehicle shows | Investing in police cars

Restorations: Rules and regs for restorers | Do-it-yourself bodywork | Do-it-yourself mechanical work

Shows: Chicagoland Emergency Vehicles Show | Aquidneck Island Police Car Parade (2008 | 2009)

Also see the EVOOA home page

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